Medical Crises and Critical Days in Avicenna and After: Insights from the Commentary Tradition

In: Intellectual History of the Islamicate World

Conceptualized as a relationship between the patient, his illness, its resolution, the celestial bodies, and the doctor, and expressed through metaphors, such as divine judgment, or effects of the stars, crises and critical days were important elements of Galenic therapy. While the early Arabic physicians maintained Galenic imagery, Ibn Sīnā (d. 1037 CE) and his followers introduced new imagery that omitted supernatural influences, and emphasized physical agents. The crisis was now described as a separation instead of a verdict, and the critical days were caused by the lunar phases alone. The “body politic” metaphor was introduced to describe medical crises. By closely examining the writings of Ibn al-Nafīs (d. 1288 CE) on the Canon of Ibn Sīnā and the Aphorisms of Hippocrates, these shifts in imagery are analysed in detail, and their implications for our understanding of a period that has been dismissed as “post-decline” and devoid of innovation.

  • 8

    Fancy, Science and Religion in Mamluk Egypt, pp. 116–120.

  • 27

    Pormann, “Avicenna on Medical Practice,” p. 107.

  • 30

    For a detailed analysis, see: Cooper, “Numbers, Prognosis, and Healing,” pp. 50–56.

  • 32

    Fancy, Science and Religion in Mamluk Egypt, p. 25 n. 64.

  • 33

    Morrison, Islam and Science, pp. 102–106, 116–118.

  • 36

    See Cooper, “Byzantium between East and West,” pp. 281–283, for how Anna Comnena used the medical aspects of the “body politic” metaphor to organize her Alexiad.

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  • 37

    Ibn al-Nafīs, Commentary on the Hippocratic Aphorisms, pp. 144–145.

  • 44

    Lane, p. 156, citing the Tāj al-ʿarūs.

  • 45

    Ibn al-Nafis, Mūjiz, p. 290.

  • 51

    Ibn al-Nafīs, Commentary on the Hippocratic Aphorisms, p. 118.

  • 52

    Ibn al-Nafīs, Commentary on the Hippocratic Aphorisms, p. 169.

  • 56

    Ibn al-Nafis, Mūjiz, p. 290.

  • 62

    Adamson, The Arabic Plotinus, pp. 6–26.

  • 66

    Ibn al-Nafīs, Commentary on the Hippocratic Aphorisms, pp. 179–181. (Aphorisms text is not included here).

  • 75

    Grafton et al., “Between the Election and My Hopes,” pp. 69–71.

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